With a title like Why Bush Must Go: A Bishop’s Faith-Based Challenge you might expect The Right Reverend Bennett J. Sims’ book to be a political screed, filled with rants about how horribly our president has led this country through days filled with terror and war. That’s what I expected. My assumption was happily wrong.
After reading such political screeds like Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush’s America by Molly Ivins (which was redeemed by some very hands-on ideas for change), Dude, Where’s My Country? by Michael Moore (who grows more didactic by the day), Lies: And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right by Al Franken (which is at least funny when it’s not maddening), and Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror by Richard A. Clarke (an incredibly gripping inside story of our current administration’s myopic view of Iraq and the world), this book by the retired bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta was a breath of fresh air. Instead of lambasting the president, as these books proudly do, Sims lays out a reasoned, theologically sound argument against the kind of leadership the current administration practices, instead of attacking specific policies or the president’s personal character.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I am no fan of our current resident of the Oval Office. I long for the day when he is no longer in power. So does Sims, but instead of an ‘anyone but Bush’ outcome, what Sims truly longs for is a fundamental change in philosophy among our country’s leaders.
Sims sees our current leaders as practicing unilateral leadership, “the top-down, tight-box command style.” Instead, Sims believes our country, as well as our world, would be a better, non-violent place if leaders of all stripes practiced a relational style of leadership that he has dubbed “Servant Leadership.” Instead of “top-down,” Servant Leadership “takes roughly the shape of a circular network, with the leader as the focus of shared authority and responsive to the automatic feedback loops that are part of the structure of the arrangement. William L. Ury contrasts the two models in a vivid sentence: ‘Pyramids are held together by coercion; networks are held together by mutual consent.'”
Sims admits that Servant Leadership, while greatly admired, is the least practiced form of management, but he insists that “Servant Leaders are the people who can pull the world back to sanity – back from the teetering brink of weaponized self-destruction under bellicose unilateral American leadership.”
Instead of using our power to dominate, Sims envisions American leaders using their power “to make a difference.” Sims points to Jesus as the embodiment of such leadership, always using his power to serve and exalt others instead of himself. He calls it a “theological truth: that God in the revelation of Jesus is not a divine dominator, not a manipulator, and never a high-and-mighty self-serving subjugator,” but is instead a Servant to all.
Sims is optimistic that there is a growing spiritual tide rising against the dominating powers ruling our nation and the world today. He believes that people are coming around and realizing that violence and war cause more problems than they will ever solve. The secret to defeating these powers, he believes, is by mobilizing “the moderate middle” where opposition is growing to the current administration’s policies.
“This phenomenon seems to me clearly a fresh power up from the depths of our collective unconscious, born of a new certainty that at this juncture of history the violence of the ages has reached such a pitch of lethal menace that, facing the possible incineration of our home base in the cosmos, we must either grow up or blow up.
“Instantly this means that Servant power has moved from option to necessity.”
That Servant power will be a non-violent power, according to Sims, a power that seeks to empower others instead of the ruling party and its members. It’s a vision that’s easy to dismiss as pie-in-the-sky, touchy-feely idealistic liberalism. Of course it is, Sims responds.
“Ideals are what energize the human spirit. If nonviolence were not an ideal, we could not use it.”
It is the erosion of such high-minded ideals, Sims posits, that has led us to the endless cycle of violence and destruction we are in presently. For those instinctively crying out against the erosion of nonviolent ideas Sims believes we must die to our old way of viewing power and “rising to a new way of being a human family in the intricately interwoven web of life.” That means simplifying our lifestyles, reinventing industries and fuel sources, doing away with special interest groups that fund and drive our politics, disavowing war and embracing all humanity as valuable.
This is the real struggle, in Sims’ view – not a struggle between communism and capitalism, but a struggle between competitive domination and collaborative partnership. Sims has reason to hope that the former is dying while the latter is rising as people begin to realize that “violence as a problem solver is totally bankrupt.”
As a means to incorporating this idealistic thought into the church, Sims offers an appendix with a twelve-step spiritual discipline and a litany for envisioning a new world that churches can use to begin to infuse their congregation with the idealistic notion that a nonviolent world would be a more peaceful, personally empowering world.
In the end, what Sims urges us to do is live into our best nature, to strive to live out our tendency as human beings to seek out the will of our higher instincts – to serve rather than to oppress, to help rather than hinder, to heal rather than harm. Sims asks us to dream our wildest dreams about peace and collaborative power, and then move to put them into action, at the voting booth, in our churches, in our jobs and in our spiritual lives. He’s optimistic because he believes human beings, though dragged down by the thrall of violence, will one day grow into its natural, mature, nonviolent nature. Sims believes we cannot help but do these things.
“The human spirit goes for great dreams not because they are plausible, but because they are irresistible.”
May our resistance soon come to an end.
Founder of Motley Mystic and the Jubilee! Circle interfaith spiritual community In Columbia, S.C., Candace Chellew (she/her) is the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008). Founder and Editor Emeritus of Whosoever, she earned her masters of theological studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, was ordained by Gentle Spirit Christian Church in December 2003, and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. She is also a musician and animal lover.